The view from the back of the half-marathon packANDREW KRUEGER COLUMN: Grandma’s Marathon and its associated races draw elite runners from around the state, the nation and the world. I am not one of those runners.
By: Andrew Krueger, Duluth News Tribune
Grandma’s Marathon and its associated races draw elite runners from around the state, the nation and the world.
They attract runners who complete dozens of miles of training runs each week, year-round, rain or snow or shine. Runners who toe the starting line to be first out of the gate when the race starts.
I am not one of those runners.
And for every elite runner on the course, there are hundreds of other runners in my situation.
Our race goals are modest — for some, it’s just finishing and not a specific time.
Our race performance is fueled less by complex nutritional supplements and more by the cheers of family, friends and complete strangers all along the way.
But on race day, we’re all made to feel like champions, thanks to the efforts of volunteers and the support of the community.
This year I completed my fourth Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon; here are some observations from back in the pack.
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Out of bed at 3:45 a.m. — before first light on one of the longest days of the year. Leaving the house an hour later — checking once, twice, three times to make sure I have my bib number, timing chip and other race necessities, and then driving downtown.
Upon arriving at the DECC at 5 a.m. with hundreds of other runners to catch a bus to the starting line, the scope of the effort to stage this race, to enable all of us runners to reach our goals, really becomes clear. All the law enforcement officials, road crews, other workers and, of course, the volunteers out directing traffic and runners are really amazing, and appreciated.
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Riding the bus up the North Shore, we’re all treated to a look at the course in reverse. The miles pass by, and you think about how you’re going to be covering that whole distance again, on foot.
At the starting line, amid the sea of fellow runners, it’s decision time. Go with a long-sleeved shirt on this damp, 48-degree morning? Wear a hat? I stick with short sleeves and ditch the hat, tucking it in my sweatbag to be tossed on a truck and carried back to Canal Park.
I’m so far back in the pack that I can’t really hear what is going on up at the starting line; there are some cheers and the crowd starts to seep forward. The race is underway.
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Those first couple of miles, working to find the right pace, you really notice all the spectators and signs along the way. The crew at Lakewood Road really shows its support. They may be out there to see a specific runner, but their cheers and cowbells lift the spirits of everyone out on the course. Some even carry signs along the lines of, “Go complete stranger!” I’m not sure about faster runners, but for me it really makes a difference.
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Passing a fan in a yeti costume handing out high-fives, we leave Scenic 61 and make the left turn toward London Road. Passing Brighton Beach, we go through the construction zone where the Lakewalk has been tunneled under the road.
There’s a speed radar trailer sitting on the shoulder up ahead — meant to keep cars at the 30 mph speed limit, of course. But with no vehicular traffic, the radar latches on to perhaps every 50th or 100th runner. It flashes numbers — “06,” and then “07,” prompting a few chuckles from those of us passing by at 6 or 7 mph.
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Up and over the Lester River bridge, getting close to the halfway point of the half marathon. Calves or knees or feet — or all three — are hurting, but with crowds now lining the streets almost continuously from here to the finish, you can’t stop. Can’t walk. You know that if you do, that’s the exact moment you’ll pass a friend or co-worker. Have to keep moving.
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Along London Road there are offers of bacon. And beer. There are sprinklers running for those who need a cooldown on a 48-degree foggy morning. The offers are appreciated, but I take a pass. A glass of water will be fine. Keep moving.
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Lemon Drop Hill looms ahead as we near 26th Avenue East. Well, it looms in my mind, at least. I can’t really see it through the fog until I’m not that far away. Two bagpipers provide the accompaniment as the field keeps moving, up and up and over, then down the long, gradual downhill of London Road to the Plaza.
Turning the corner onto 12th Avenue East, the short climb to Superior Street comes up quickly and is a bit painful. It’s no Lemon Drop Hill, but I wonder if it should have a name.
* * *
Someone at Fitger’s is playing “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band. Good running music, one of many tunes along the way that provide a welcome pick-me-up. We all head around the gentle curve by the Pickwick and see the crowds and tall buildings lining the way through downtown. Any reserves of adrenaline left kick in.
Bricks? Asphalt? It’s all good to me as I pass by. No troubles with either surface.
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As I make the turn to Fifth Avenue West to some much-appreciated cheers from News Tribune co-workers, the short but steep descent to Michigan Street hurts a bit. It’s a jarring change from the mostly level course, followed by the climb up and over Interstate 35, and another descent to the harbor.
Crossing the freeway, suddenly the cold wind off Lake Superior that I haven’t felt all race long becomes very evident. But you put the ups and downs and wind and mist out of your mind, because it’s the last mile. Time to use up any energy you have left. Keep moving, faster.
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The final stretch down Canal Park Drive. Loud cheers from the crowd buoy an extra kick down the straightaway and across the finish line. There’s no pain. The cold is momentarily forgotten. Just elation, jubilation at reaching the end of an race where all of us back-in-the-pack runners are made to feel like we’re among the world’s elite.
To everyone who helps make that happen, thanks.
Andrew Krueger is a multimedia editor at the News Tribune, is happy with the 2:03:19 half marathon time he posted this year, and really liked the French toast bagels at the finish line. He can be reached at email@example.com.